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“Administering the Small Probate Estate – Part I”

by | Mar 20, 2018

ADMINISTERING THE SMALL PROBATE ESTATE – PART I

In many cases, after a loved one has passed away, you find that there really are not a whole lot of assets to be dealt with, or “administered”.   This could be because the deceased simply was a person of little means; that most assets were jointly titled and are now in the name of the survivor; that a “pay on death” designation had been made; that a trust had been established (and funded); or some other  more sophisticated estate planning  measures had been undertaken so as to minimize the need for “regular” probate of such individual’s estate.  In such instances, despite the lack of financial resources or having engaged in some estate planning, there may be a few assets that remain “stuck” in the decedent’s name that need to be transferred out to named beneficiaries under a Will to his/her heirs.  In these instances, the State of Michigan has developed expedited procedures to accomplish such transfers, where “regular”  or more formal probate of one’s estate is simply not needed or warranted.

Under Michigan law, if the deceased left assets with a value of $22,000 (adjusted for inflation), or less, and owned no real estate (land and attached buildings), there are various means of expediting the  transfer of title to those named under the Will  of the deceased or to those that otherwise are his/her heirs.  This article will discuss these various procedures, which are commonly referred to as “Small” Probate Proceedings.  They typically do not cost a whole lot of money and the estate can usually be wound up quite quickly.  (For more specific information on these options, you would be wise to contact the  estate planning professionals at Damon, Ver Merris, Boyko & Witte, PLC, who have decades of experience  handling matters of this nature).

The following procedures may also apply if these are ancillary proceedings to a probate case pending in another jurisdiction and there is only a small amount of property in Michigan.  Likewise, if the decedent left a “pour-over” Will directing the transfer of all assets into a living trust, and some asset was inadvertently omitted, or subsequently acquired, the Trustee of the trust should be able to use the following Affidavit procedures to transfer assets valued at or below the applicable maximum amount into the trust, even though the decedent’s Will is never probated.

If the deceased only owned clothes and cash of $500 or less, being held by a hospital, a convalescent home, nursing home, morgue or law enforcement agency, there is a simple Affidavit procedure where an Affidavit is completed by the spouse, children or parent of the deceased and submitted to whomever is holding these funds and/or wearing apparel.  The recipient of the property must understand that they may be accountable to any subsequently appointed Personal Representative of decedent’s estate if one is later appointed.   A similar procedure is available via the foregoing  Affidavit procedure if the only assets, other than clothing, is a paycheck.  The recipient(s) remains similarly accountable to any subsequently appointed Personal Representative.

If the deceased only owned personal property that is not titled (such as household goods and furnishings), had a bank or credit union account, and a motor vehicle, then the most expeditious way to get these assets transferred out to his or her heirs or named beneficiaries under a Will is to follow the Affidavit and Assignment procedures found under the Michigan Probate Code (EPIC).  Under the Affidavit of Decedent’s Successor for Delivery of Certain Assets Owned by Decedent, you simply wait at least 28 days and then complete this Affidavit indicating your relationship to the deceased, when they died, if they had a Will (and, if so, its date), confirm that there is no real estate involved, that the total net assets in the estate are less than $22,000, that there is no pending probate proceedings, and identify who is entitled to the decedent’s property.  This form is then signed in front of a notary public.  Thereafter, it can be presented to a financial institution along with the decedent’s death certificate.  The institution can then rely upon the Affidavit and release any funds on hand to those named in the percentages stated.  The bank or credit union is then released from liability to the same extent as if they were dealing with a Personal Representative in a typical Probate estate.

In the next article, I will discuss the transfer of motor vehicles and dealing with small estates where real property is involved.  If you have a situation where someone has died and you find that certain of their assets are “tied up” and cannot be transferred out without some form of legal documentation or proceedings, contact the estate planning professionals at Damon, Ver Merris, Boyko & Witte, PLC. We can review your options, guide you through the best process, and help you wind up the financial affairs of the deceased in a timely manner to accomplish your goals.  Call us today at (616) 975-9951.    – Larry A. Ver Merris  /  March 19, 2018

While this posting originates from a law office, none of the contents should, in any way, be considered legal advice. If you have not signed a retention letter describing the legal services to be provided and the amount to be paid for such services, you are not a client of this firm.

While this posting originates from a law office, none of the contents should, in any way, be considered legal advice. If you have not signed a retention letter describing the legal services to be provided and the amount to be paid for such services, you are not a client of this firm.

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